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Jad 10, Ri 25-3016
Pilar shivered, looking around for the man who'd touched her back, but no one seemed close enough to have been the one.
"Anything wrong?" Andrew asked in English, his chest pressed to her shoulder in a possessive manner any of the hopefuls would be sure to recognize.
She sank further into him. "I thought ... " But the more she thought about it, the more ridiculous it sounded.
"What?" His voice was gruff, and her hair stirred at the movement of his head as he scanned the room.
"Nothing." She laughed nervously. "My imagination."
"If you're certain ... " Andrew's voice announced clearly that he wasn't.
"I--I am. I'm just being silly."
"I'll stay with you."
Pilar turned to him, wincing at his open challenge to a group of hopefuls milling nearby. "Please, Andrew. I'm fine. Really, I am."
"If you're uneasy, you don't have to do this. I can escort you to your rooms."
Her cheeks heated. "No. I'll never find a mate if you hover. I want to, Andrew. Promise me you'll let me try." Of course, she'd been trying for nearly a year, and she was still skittish as a kittle around the hopefuls.
He nodded, stroking at her cheek lightly. "If you need my help--"
Pilar smiled. "I'm never alone."
Andrew dropped a kiss on her cheek and withdrew. Pilar took a calming breath and smiled at the lord approaching her. She could do this. She could find a mate.
"Good evening, mi'lord," she offered brightly, searching for his name and coming up short ... again. It was Lor ... something, she was certain. It was deplorable that shecouldn't remember most of their names. Then again, she'd only been actively meeting the nobles at events, and there were so many hopefuls at each one.
He bowed, keeping his eyes averted. "Good evening, Pilar Laes. Would you care to take some air with me?"
She stared at him in surprise. No man had dared ask her that in all the time she'd met men. "Why ... yes, mi'lord. I believe I would," she managed.
Her heart skipped as the lord offered his arm. Pilar placed her hand through his elbow, glancing around for Andrew automatically. He was engaged in conversation with his twin, Alex. Their father and mother were dancing together, and Carter was nowhere in sight.
Pilar fought back a moment of panic. She was walking away with this lord, and none of her family would be trailing in her wake. Pilar straightened her spine and managed a smile for her escort. If she ever wanted to find a mate, it was the price she would have to pay.
The night air was cool and the stars bright. Pilar resisted the urge to laugh out loud. Like Carter, she'd always favored a clear, night sky.
"This is to your liking?" the man at her side asked.
"Yes. It is ... Li..." Pilar grimaced in the realization that she still hadn't remembered his name. Was it Lorent? Lorel?
He chuckled. "Loryol, Pilar Laes."
Her cheeks burned in a fierce blush. "Loryol. Of course. My apologies, Loryol Li."
"None needed. You meet many men. You can hardly be expected to remember every name." Loryol met her eyes fully. "But, perhaps the most important are remembered ... fondly remembered."
Pilar released his arm, suddenly uncertain. Something in Loryol's eyes was too familiar. She hadn't given him permission to look her in the eye, but he was doing so without hesitation.
She took a step toward the manor. "We should go back. My brothers--"
Loryol's hands closed on her shoulders, pulling Pilar into the shelter of his body. "Just a few moments," he requested.
"You--you don't have permission to touch me." Pilar's heart pounded in fear. She didn't want to scream, but Loryol might leave her no choice but to alert the guards.
"I mean you no harm." His voice was smooth ... melodic.
"The law doesn't say--"
His lips brushed across hers. Pilar stiffened in surprise, pushing at Loryol's chest. His mouth came down again, bypassing her face and laying a kiss at her pulse point.
She stilled, her thoughts scattered. Loryol traced the artery with the tip of his tongue.
"You should stop," Pilar managed, her eyes sliding shut in the cascade of new stimuli.
She knew what Loryol was doing, of course. All the re-breds had been trained in Keen lovemaking. The women healers had told Pilar it was for her own protection. She'd never understood that comment until now.
Loryol's hand stroked at her hip, sending sparks of pleasure through her system. Pilar's mind worked dully at the situation. He was trying to seduce her. If Loryol succeeded, he could demand a Trial Moon.
"No." Pilar pushed him away more forcefully, trying to bolt for the manor.
His hand closed on her wrist, tighter than she was comfortable with, wrenching her back to him. Loryol's eyes glittered in the starlight, a fierce determination etched on his face.
"Release me," she ordered him, but her voice was devoid of the conviction she wanted it to carry.
"You should not play with a Keen lord," he informed her.
"I'm not playing. I'm leaving." Pilar pulled at his hold, her breathing hitching when he didn't budge. She looked toward the manor through the thick foliage hiding all but the highest windows from view, praying for some sound indicating that Andrew was in pursuit. Even Carter would be acceptable at this point.
Loryol's grip tightened, a silent promise that she was going nowhere he didn't want her to go. He shook his head slowly. "Why do you fear me? Have I injured you?"
"If you don't release me--"
"Release her. Now."
Pilar jumped at the strange voice. She searched out the dark shadow moving toward them in relief. She wasn't alone and at Loryol's mercy.
"I said release her. I won't say it a third time."
She had a face to match to the voice now. Bathed in starlight, the fury of his words couldn't compare to the promise of death in his eyes.
Loryol chuckled. "Amazing. You actually think you can order me?"
"I can stop you, but I promise you that Alex Li the Elder and the lady's brothers will kill you where you stand, if you don't release her. I'll make sure of it."
Loryol's cocky grin disappeared. He released her arm.
All of her life, Pilar had been trained to run to her family or guards in a case like this. She didn't. The moment she was free of Loryol, Pilar surged behind her savior.
He looked around at her in shock then turned to Loryol. "Do you wish me to deliver Loryol to your father?" he asked solemnly.
Pilar shuddered, pressing her cheek to the man's back, his silin shirt soothing her nerves. "No," she whispered. "My father knows where to find him."
Loryol stomped away, grumbling curses.
The second man stood his ground for several minutes. Finally, he sighed and relaxed slightly. "Are you well, Pilar Laes?"
She nodded against his back.
"Then I should take you to your--"
"Not yet ... please." Pilar managed an unwavering voice though tears threatened.
He turned to her, his dark eyes growing darker in concern. His gaze scanned over her, boldly drinking in every inch of her body. "Were you hurt?"
"No," she denied, though she rubbed at her wrist. She did hurt, and Andrew's fury wasn't something Pilar wanted to see anytime soon.
The man scooped up her hand, his eyes narrowing. "I should have taken him to your father. We should go now. They can stop Loryol before--"
"No," she gasped. There had to be a better way. Seeing Pilar come in with a mark on her body would send Andrew over the edge of reason. "Alex," she mused. If Alex healed the bruise, before Andrew saw it...
"If you brought my brother Alex--Oh ... No. You won't know which is which," she decided miserably.
"Does it matter?"
"Of course, it does," she snapped. "If Alex heals this before Andrew sees--"
"You want to heal the damage before you go in?"
"Unless I want to be under heavy guard for the rest of my life." And, that wasn't a stretch of the imagination. She'd never find a mate that way. "But, how will you tell them apart?"
"I don't need to," he offered in a voice that sounded of complete confidence in his answer.
"Yes, you do need to. Or ... someone needs to." Who could he ask, without arousing suspicion? Carter! Her younger brother bordered on oblivious.
"If healing is the problem, let me heal you."
Pilar stared at him, shocked beyond speech for an instant, but the young lord seemed sincere. "You possess the healing magic?"
He raised an eyebrow, as if frustrated by the question. "Yes. I do." His tone rode the line between patient and patronizing.
"But ... it's so rare. The royal family and the re-breds, naturally. Other than that, there are only ... perhaps ... a dozen men--"
"Fifteen, to be precise," he offered with a slight tip of his head.
"How wonderful." Pilar touched his arm, feeling like a silly school girl in his presence. "A treasure," she breathed.
"Pardon?" he asked again.
"My apologies. I meant ... You're a treasure."
"My healing magic?" he scoffed.
"And your noble nature. Not every man would have stopped Loryol. Many men would have taken advantage of the situation, if they'd done anything, at all."
He blushed. "May I heal you?"
"Absolutely." She offered her arm, her heart skipping in excitement. She'd never been healed by anyone but her immediate family and her Cousin Joseph. "With my thanks."
The lord cradled her wrist to his mouth and started to heal the bruises.
Pilar weaved on her feet in surprise. The healing was always enjoyable, but coming from an eligible young lord instead of a family member made it more so.
The sensation of ice hit her first. Then the heat followed closely by the pulse of pleasure. Her human genetics made this simple exchange more erotic than the seduction attempts Loryol had played at.
Pulse after pulse of his healing coursed over her nerves, bringing her nipples to aching points against her gown, making her sex hot and heavy and her thighs damp with the lubricant for lovemaking.
The lord placed a kiss on the inside of her wrist, marking the end of his healing.
"What is your name?" Pilar asked, her voice strange in her own ears.
He met her eyes, seemingly surprised. "Cored, mi'lady."
She nodded shakily. "Cored Li," she greeted him, rising on her toes and sealing her mouth to his.
Cored groaned in surprise, drinking in the musk on her skin and the press of her nipples through both layers of silin between them. Len only knew why, but Pilar was aroused. His inner sense told him that she was intent on him, on taking Cored in the garden, if he'd have her.
This is a bad idea, his mind protested. Take her to her father. Do this the right way. She wants you. You could be contracted within the week.
His mind was drowned out by the flood of emotions his sense pulled from Pilar. Her need was like a living thing. With his reputation--the little of it his brother had allowed to leak out, at risk to the family--her manic sexual state could be blamed on Cored's failings.
Some dark corner of his mind produced a new plan. Pilar had initiated this encounter. If she followed it through, Cored could demand a Trial Moon.
Pilar pulled at his tunic, frantic, her musk reaching a high that indicated a mating frenzy in full sway. Her mouth parted from his. "Cored," she pleaded.
"You want this?" he whispered. She had to say it.
"Yes." She pulled at the buttons on his trousers, opening them and taking his length in her hand.
Cored shivered, cupping her face up and meeting her mouth, letting her need feed his own. He lowered her to the ground, pulling up at her full skirts.
She was ready for him, her heated body slick. Pilar bowed up to his questing fingers, her eyes wide. Cored groaned in pleasure as he encountered her barrier.
Slowly, he reminded himself. Cored sought out the ridge of her inner pleasure spot.
Pilar was responsive. She moved against his hands, sharp gasps and low moans escaping her trembling lips.
At the moment of her climax, Cored captured her cry in his mouth. It was necessary. A scream would bring her father and brothers.
Pilar fixed pleading eyes on him. Cored nodded. He didn't need to ask the ritual words; Cored could feel exactly what Pilar wanted, but there was something beyond arousal that Cored wished he had the time to examine ... something he hadn't encountered before.
Cored sealed his lips to hers again, seating his cock deep inside her. Her climax quickened, as Pilar's barrier tore, and her arousal grew. To his surprise, she didn't cry out.
The swell of unrecognized feelings grew, and Cored opened himself to them more fully. The realization of what she was feeling jarred him. Pilar trusted him. She liked him ... perhaps more than liked him.
Other women he'd bedded wanted something from him, harbored ulterior motives that brought the sour taste of mercenary emotions to the forefront of their hearts. None of them had trusted him. Few liked him, and none liked him more than what they wanted from him.
He touched her face, guilt coursing through him. It shocked him ... appalled him on some base level. Cored hadn't bargained on this. He hadn't anticipated feeling anything in response to her emotions, but he did.
I didn't expect her emotions to be so positive and warm.
Cored slowed his pace, taking Pilar in long, leisurely strokes, reveling in her heated reactions. He groaned. Maybe their contract wouldn't be a sham, after all.
Andrew jumped up on the dais, scanning the ballroom for some sign of Pilar. She was gone. He jumped down again and strode toward Carter. Since Andrew had been with Alex, Carter was his only hope for information.
He ground his teeth in frustration. It wasn't like Pilar to disappear like this. That, coupled with her unease earlier in the evening, spoke volumes to Andrew.
"Carter," he barked at his younger brother. "Where is Pilar?"
"In the gardens," he answered automatically.
Andrew breathed a sigh of relief. "Where?"
Carter shot him a look of disbelief. "Does it look like I followed them?"
The unease returned like a punch to his gut. "Them? Who was with her?"
"Some lord. Um ... Loral, I think. No ... Loryol. That's it."
"You think? Carter, are you telling me that you let Pilar walk out there with a notorious rake and no guard?"
"She's an adult, Andrew. For Pete's sake! What she does is none of my business."
"It is. Protecting Pilar is our duty. How long ago did they leave the ballroom?"
Carter shrugged. "A quarter of an hour. Maybe a half."
Andrew grasped his shoulder. "A quarter or a half?" he demanded.
Carter shrugged again.
Andrew uttered several harsh curses in English and Keen. "Stay here, in case Pilar comes back."
His younger brother rolled his eyes, but he nodded his agreement.
Andrew collected Alex and two of the guards, heading out into the night.
"Which way, Andrew Li?" the lieutenant asked.
Andrew scanned his eyes over the expansive gardens in dismay. "We'll have to split up."
"I don't think so," Alex commented, his voice tenser than usual. He marched down the hillside before Andrew could question his certainty.
Andrew followed his brother's line of sight, and his gaze settled on Loryol emerging from the Garigol trees ... alone. Alex made it to Loryol first, but only by a moment.
"Where is she?" Alex demanded.
Loryol scowled then motioned into the trees. "Back there. Believe me, she's fine."
Andrew took over. "Why did you leave her? Why are you heading to the transports instead of the manor?"
"Because your sister seems to prefer the company of others. If you'll excuse me--" He turned and made to push past the guards.
"Stop him," Alex ordered.
Loryol looked back in something approaching fury. "All I did was try to talk to her."
"All you did?" Andrew drawled. "Are you certain about that?" Loryol was too defensive, too cocky. Something more had happened, Andrew was sure.
Loryol shifted uncomfortably, his face darkening, confirming that Andrew was correct. "Well ... I did kiss her, I suppose. But she was willing," he was quick to add. "More than willing, and I did stop, when she requested that I stop. You've got no reason to hold me."
"I think we do. Until I hear the same story from Pilar's lips, I think you should remain a guest of the house. Lieutenant?"
"As you wish," the guard replied, shooting Loryol a look of warning.
"Now," Alex began calmly. "Where is my sister?"
Loryol sighed. "Last time I saw her, she was hanging all over him near a stand of flowering Zura bushes."
"All over who?" Alex's voice held more than a touch of acid.
"Cored." Loryol managed a stiff smile. "What a lovely judge of character your sister is."
Andrew headed into the gardens at a near run, stopping several times to get his bearings.
Cored. Loryol hadn't called him Cored Li for a reason. Cored had been disavowed by his family. Andrew didn't know why he'd been, but he knew Cored was considered a dangerous man. Only his affiliations allowed him entry to estates like this one. It seemed many of the noble families tolerated, even invited his attendance at events.
Alex tapped him on the shoulder, reminding Andrew that he was about to miss the path to the stand of Zura. They turned together, picking their way up the less-used path.
Andrew stilled in disbelief at the passionate whisper. I don't want to see this. Whatever was going on, he was sure it wasn't good.
Pilar groaned. "Cored."
It definitely wasn't getting better. Slight sounds of movement sent a shiver of dread down Andrew's spine.
Alex grasped his shoulder, stepping ahead of his younger twin and heading into the bushes separating them from the couple beyond. Of course, Alex had probably become jaded to the idea of sex, younger sister or not.
A masculine groan sent Andrew into motion again. "My Pilar," Cored crooned.
Alex stopped short, shaking his head as if in denial of what he was seeing. Andrew shouldered him aside, his breath catching at the scene in the clearing.
Pilar lay beneath Cored, her gold silin gown pushed to her waist, her legs hooked around his waist. Cored's fingers were threaded through hers, pressing Pilar's hands to the ground to either side of her head. He laid kiss after kiss on her lips, whispering endearments to her between, capturing little gasps and moans from her swollen lips. He moved inside her, his cock appearing and disappearing into her trembling body.
"Yes, Cored," she pleaded, her body rising against his, the scent of her climax perfuming the air in the small clearing and rushing past her brothers on air currents.
Cored nodded, slamming his body deep into hers, his head thrown back, his eyes closing in a look of bliss.
Alex surged toward them, gleaning the meaning of that move a split-second before Andrew did. Pilar's cry of delight dissolved into dismay, as Alex grasped Cored by the throat and dragged him off of her, his erupting cock spraying thick rivulets of his seed along her thighs and over the dark blonde curls at the apex. Cored released her hands at the drag of her body along with him, letting her thump softly to the grass.
Cored roared in pain and frustration, his thickening cock far from the band he sought. He collapsed to his bare backside, dragging Alex with him, his eyes wide and body trembling in shock.
"No," Pilar sobbed, one hand reaching for him in a slow, unsteady arc.
Andrew knelt at her side, trying to soothe her upset. She was in a mating frenzy. Pilar didn't understand what Cored's game was.
"How could you?" she accused, her midnight blue eyes full of tears.
Andrew sighed, drawing her skirts down her abdomen. He closed his eyes to the sight of Cored's seed leaking from her body, a trickle of blood mixed in, probably the evidence of her barrier. He prayed that's all it was.
"Was this the first?" he started to ask.
Pilar slapped his cheek, forcing his eyes open to the sight of the tears streaming down her face.
"How could you!" she repeated, struggling to her feet. Pilar sank to her knees with a gasp, pressing a hand to her abdomen, pale and shaking.
Andrew turned on Cored, laying a punch across his cheek that sent the disavowed lord into Alex's chest and nearly overbalanced them both.
"Stop," Alex ordered. "You don't know what happened here."
Cored shook his head, but whether it was a mute protest or to clear the ringing residue of the punch was unclear.
"No. You don't know ... not for certain. Leave him, until Pilar is capable of telling us."
Andrew nodded, drawing Pilar into his arms.
She smacked him again, this time with enough power behind it to make Andrew see bright flashes of light in its wake. "Don't touch me," she growled at him. "I hate you."
He nodded; in the midst of a mating frenzy, no matter the situation, Pilar would strike out at anyone who'd interrupted her. "Alex, bring that geela with you. I'll get Pilar to the woman healer."